"Eine Historische Wahrheit ist nur einmal Wahr"
— Carl Schmitt
History does not repeat, but it certainly rhymes. We observe similar figures encountering similar problems, we see familiar structures and structural conflicts, we observe distinct patterns given certain circumstances and conditions. However, no piece of history is testable under lab conditions, the similarity of circumstances does not predestine the same outcome. Carl Schmitt said that a historical truth can be true only once. I can think of no better an example of this than the fate of Kerensky. The man came to power in the 1917 February revolution in Russia to overthrow the Tsarist regime which was having a difficult time modernising. Kerensky was perfectly aware of the possibility of a "second revolution" happening, particularly he thought of the French Revolution with the reactionary coup of Thermidor removing and executing the initial radical Robespierre. After the Kornilov affair had passed and the popularity of the Bolsheviks had reached an all time high Kerensky underestimated their threat, maintaining his policy of "no enemies to the left" instead of crushing them and was blindsided in October. History repeated, only it repeated differently. For this sake of this difference inherent to repetition, the only iron clad rule which will we will hold to in the ensuing investigation is the absolute necessity of contingency, deterministic models of history will be thoroughly rejected.
Models of history must inevitably fall into discussions of ontology, for otherwise history cannot disclose itself as structured. Yet if an ontological theory fails in the face of empirical history it must be discarded, historical contingency must take absolute precedence to ensure theory discloses rather than conceals its structure. The theory has to explain the facts and it has to be consistent with the ontology we apply to other domains of applied theory in the empirical sciences. In this essay I will argue that process ontology, in the form of structural realism and theories of structural conflict are the only adequate approaches to explain history.
We do not need to think in terms of linearity in order to develop a structural theory. When predicting weather cycles using models from dynamical systems theory we are able to uncover patterns from the seeming randomness of the weather. These patterns are themselves so complex that we cannot make predictions beyond certain limits, but on particular time horizons we have achieved considerable accuracy. In the historical context the first major attempt at a structural analysis of history to explain dynamics was Karl Marx's historical materialism. Marx's theory however had several flaws, the most fundamental of which was its economic determinism. To provide the foundations for a new structural analysis of history which overcomes this determinism the theorist to whom I am most indebted is Bertrand De Jouvenel. Jouvenel provides a theory of structural analysis which places primacy on the political over and above the economic and his analysis can easily be integrated into a broader ontological framework which will build a new and improved historical materialism.
The extent of analysis which will go here to form an understanding of the dynamics of history based on understanding the structural dynamics of political relations will be necessarily incomplete due to the fact that I will not be examining ideological or religious dynamics in their internal complexity. To reduce ideology and religion down to terms of structural power analysis would be a mistake. This does not restrain political analysis from having something to say about ideology or religion. Political powers often promote particular ideologies or religions as opposed to others for reasons that a structural analysis of the political reveals, but to reduce the contents of the religion to such analysis is a mistake. Theological or metaphysical meanings inherent to religions and ideologies are genuine products of theological and metaphysical inquires, they may be instrumentalized for political purposes but this does not mean this instrumental purpose is what motivated their generation in the first instance.
Explanatory power, explanatory scope and predictive power is where theories go to die. In these areas Marxism has died, but this does not mean a new historical materialism which overcomes the central obstacles which held it back cannot be erected. The central error of Marxism in its materialism was that it took from classical economics the atomist ontology of Newtonian physics. It is not Marx's fault that he was writing half a century before the emergence of Quantum mechanics and requisite developments in ontology which undermined traditional atomism. This meant that Marx reproduced many of the same ontological errors which we see in classical and neoclassical economics. Aaron Hunter's paper in the first issue of this journal, Econofuturism (part 1), deals with this. The central error of Marx's historicism was that there has been an inverse tendency for historicising the scientific disciplines to undermine their objectivity, as is exemplified by misreadings of Kuhn or in pessimistic meta-induction, whereas going on the counter offensive and applying science to history had been rarer, but is totally necessary. Thus there needs to be a new materialism to form historical materialist analysis and new historical tools to found a new synthesis.
Part 1: Structural Power Analysis
My basic thesis in this paper is that political structures operate analogously to organic structures as described by the so called 'natural sciences'. This could be something like a physical systems, an organism or a species, all of which do work as dynamical systems. Dynamical systems are eloquently described by an eponymous theory, which has been applied in thermodynamics, biology, neuroscience, and many other disciplines in myriad ways. The likes of Gilbert Simondon, Giles Deleuze, Steven French and Manuel DeLanda are my main influences in viewing these convergent developments as a new ontological paradigm1. On the historical side there have been a number of thinkers who have posited something similar with respect to history, but they have focused mostly on natural history to show its impact on "human history". This typically takes of the form of positing natural phenomena like race, geography and/or resource availability as playing a vital role in the historical processes pertaining to social and political organization.
Fernand Braudel, Manuel DeLanda, William McNeil, Arthur Iberall, and Immanuel Wallerstein are all exemplars of this way of thinking. Their work has influenced the work here, but the task at hand with this essay is to examine political systems as dynamical systems. This essay therefore has more of a direct historical focus as opposed to a scientific one, this however isn't merely a difference in emphasis. Material historical processes exist in interactions with political structures, but these structures are themselves autonomousand have internal complexity; they aren't simply the necessary outcomes material processes. Some of the thinkers mentioned here recognise this contingency, particularly those from the discipline of international relations, but some do not largely as a consequence of Marx's influence. To set up our argument for the contingency of the political, a basic understanding of dynamical systems and structural realism broadly is necessary.
The obvious entry point to this 'new materialism' is thinking in terms of historicising essences as in Darwinism and contrasting it with the older Aristotelian teleological perspective. Aristotelian hylomorphism was a response to Platonism's lack of operative explanatory power in explaining the genesis of forms in nature. Rather than having an archetypal origin as in the Platonist account, forms become the entelechy in Aristotle, the purpose towards which things realize their potential, the acorn striving towards the end of the tree, the boy striving towards the end of man. Aristotelianism is a philosophy of man finding his place in nature by fullfiling his end of excellence or eudaemonia, rather than the proto-gnostism we find in Platonism of man's alienation from the eternal realm of forms in our impoverished realm of temporality which distorts them.
Aristotle's brilliant innovations over Plato gave the forms operative movement and far more actionable explanation, but nonetheless is hugely outdated based on subsequent developments to Aristotle over thousands of years. Aristotelian essentialism as an explanation for the unity and identity of forms however runs into serious problems in accounting for morphogenetic processes. Darwinism is correctly seen as in large part a refutation of teleology due to the fact that it immanentises forms as historical responses to particular problems in the environment. The essential character of species emerges as a solution to the problem of survival. There is a multiplicity of solutions to the problem of survival in different species and different possible selection options which are contradictory.
Rather than a unified static species-essence, there is the space of contradictory possibilities which are resolved in a dynamic and complex relation to an itself transforming environmental problematic, where species are malleable adaptive systems in a feedback loop. Forms are produced which can be more or less adaptive in history, less adaptive possibilities lose to more adaptive possibilities. Thus in order to explain the fossil record and the clear dynamism of species we need to posit their evolution in time. Historicising essence therefore must replace essence itself with a problematic which has a multiplicity of potential solutions. In other words, the traditional metaphysical language of objects around us as we experience them need to be historicised to describe what is behind the production of that world. The process of individuation must be placed anterior in our ontology to the categorical form of the constituted individual things we encounter, which are products rather than actual ontological entities which are basic.
To quote Delanda on this new materialism and its relevance to history:
"It should come as no surprise, then, that the current penetration of science by historical concerns has been the result of advances in these two disciplines. lIya Prigogine revolutionized thermodynamics in the 1960s by showing that the classical results were valid only for closed systems, where the overall quantities of energy are always conserved. If one allows an intense flow of energy in and out of a system (that is, if one pushes it far from equilibrium), the number and type of possible historical outcomes greatly increases. Instead of a unique and simple form of stability, we now have multiple coexisting forms of varying complexity (static, periodic, and chaotic attractors). Moreover, when a system switches from one stable state to another (at a critical point called a bifurcation), minor fluctuations may play a crucial role in deciding the outcome. Thus, when we study a given physical system, we need to know the specific nature of the fluctuations that have been present at each of its bifurcations; in other words, we need to know its history to understand its current dynamical state.
And what is true of physical systems is all the more true of biological ones. Attractors and bifurcations are features of any system in which the dynamics are not only far from equilibrium but also nonlinear, that is, in which there are strong mutual interactions (or feedback) between components. Whether the system in question is composed of molecules or of living creatures, it will exhibit endogenously generated stable states, as well as sharp transitions between states, as long as there is feedback and an intense flow of energy coursing through the system. As biology begins to include these nonlinear dynamical phenomena in its models-for example, the mutual stimulation involved in the case of evolutionary "arms races" between predators and prey-the notion of a "fittest design" will lose its meaning. In an arms race there is no optimal solution fixed once and for all, since the criterion of "fitness" itself changes with the dynamics. As the belief in a fixed criterion of optimality disappears from biology, real historical processes come to reassert themselves once more."23
In order to move from this intuitive biological example towards a general ontology which replaces 'billiard ball' materialism, dualism, or idealism we will need to look at physical cases of individuation. The basic move is to replace the simple idea of stability and instability with the more complex notion of metastability. In order to eliminate transcendent essence a more powerful realism which incorporates tendencies and capacities is necessary. If we look at water it has a liquid structure or "phase" and has the real tendency to freeze at a bifurcation point and to vapourise at another. Realism of tendencies and capacities is fairly common in analytic philosophy but the insistence here is that they are resolved in structural transformation. The capacity for structural transformation implies the existence of a "pre-phase" being which is called by Simondon the pre-individual being, there is a necessary excess of being which is not exhausted in individuating processes which enable the being of becoming or "ontogenesis".
Combes in this quote explains this notion:
"A physical system is said to be in metastable equilibrium (or false equilibrium) when the least modification of system parameters (pressure, temperature, etc.) suffices to break its equilibrium. Thus, in super-cooled water (i.e., water remaining liquid at a temperature below its freezing point), the least impurity with a structure isomorphic to that of ice plays the role of a seed for crystallization and suffices to turn the water to ice. Before all individuation, being can be understood as a system containing potential energy. Although this energy becomes active within the system, it is called potential because it requires a transformation of the system in order to be structured, that is, to be actualized in accordance with structures. Preindividual being, and indeed any system in a metastable state, habors potentials that are incompatible because they belong to heterogeneous dimensions of being."4
Being does not select for order like Leibniz' God selecting for the best of all possible worlds, it is the dynamism of metastability which enables the rarer and fleeting negentropy, the striving for movement and a temporary continuation of order. When an equilibrium is broken, in order to ensure the continuity of dynamism and movement a transformation is required, and for this to be possible a system must posses the real capacity for structural transformation (metastability) which points to a far more complex nature of the world. The absolute individual is completely undermined because it is never without relation, it is instead a system of individuation.
To quote Simondon:
"Indeed, a hypothesis can be made that is analogous to the hypothesis of quanta in physics and also to the hypothesis of the relativity of levels of potential energy: it can be supposed that individuation does not fully exhaust pre-individual reality and that a regime of metastability is not merely sustained by the individual but carried by it, such that the constituted individual transports along with it a certain associated charge of pre-individual reality that is animated by all the potentials which characterize it; an individuation is relative, like a structural change in a physical system; a certain level of potential remains, and further individuations are still possible. This pre-individual nature, which remains associated with the individual, is a source of future metastable states from whence new individuations will be able to emerge. According to this hypothesis, it would be possible to consider every veritable relation as having the status of being and as developing from within a new individuation; relation does not spring forth between two terms that would already be individuals; relation is an aspect of the internal resonance of a system of individuation; it belongs to a system state. This living being, which is both more and less than unity, conveys an interior problematic and can enter as an element into a problematic that is vaster than its own being. For the individual, participation is the fact of being an element in a vaster individuation through the intermediary of the charge of pre-individual reality that the individual contains, i.e. due to the potentials that it harbors."5
Pre-Individual being thus possesses none of the normal characteristics we associate with matter. It is a multiplicity of potential which resolves itself into the distribution of singularities which are disparate potential resolutions for the problematic environment every system of individuation finds itself within and must respond to. Each system of individuation must produce negentropy (reverse entropy) via a metastable movement towards new equilibria. The classic example of this given by Simondon is that a salt crystal in an amorphous phase will always tend towards that structure which has the minimum possible bonding energy, which is a cubic form. This is a cute example but there are far more complex morphogenetic processes out there like weather systems, stars, rivers, embryogenesis, psychic individuation etc, and you will need different language to describe them but in every case you need metastability. When it comes to analogies with political systems it will be maintained that they are in fact dynamical systems but clearly it is more intuitive to think of them in analogy with species being conceived as adaptive systems.
A great example of this is the psyche, a person clearly does not have their personality purely predetermined genetically, as massive personality differences between familiy members demonstrates. It could not be a purely epigenetic process either, because clearly specifically human brains and physiology and environmental conditions severely limit the infinite scope of difference. It could not be that there are multiple personalities present at the exact same time, otherwise everyone would be in an even worse state than a schizophrenic. A psyche thus is something which forms in individuating processes which come as a result of certain genetic mechanisms combined with a pre-individual well in their personality which allows for change, they are a field for experience. This is a slightly disturbing thought on the one hand because it means there is an essential black box inside you which is plastic and anomalous, but also inspiring because that pre-individuality is what allows the potential for self-improvement.
The absolute individual is totally undermined everywhere and is seen as always embedded in structures and has relations with a field of potentials. The individual is the result of processes of individuation and is always still undergoing individuation, it never exhausts pre-individual being. This metastability is what gives the individual the ability to adapt and change to new circumstances, specifically adopting new structures in response to new development. There is nothing necessary or automatic about this, when an equilibrium (which in the case of the psyche is systems of behaviour) breaks down in terms of its ability to confront problems, this means that a movement to a new equilibrium in response to these transforming conditions in the environment is necessary.
So what does it mean to apply this ontology of dynamical systems to political structures? At a basic level it means that a political system has internal complexities, that it has tendencies and capacities, that it has the potential for structural transformation under certain intensive conditions. As a more formal thesis it would be that a political structure is a dynamical system, and that it is centred around a problematic. But this is a complex problematic, it is centred around multiple constitutive problems which it has to respond to at the same time. A political structure is also comprised of not just one unitive central actor, but of a coalition of institutions and interest groups. These institutions and groups are embedded within their own problematic fields which could produce contradictory conditions of stability to what stability looks like from the vantage point of an absolute political centre. To see all this and how it explains the development and transformation of political structures, we will need to move from the domain of ontology to history.
The Problematic of Power
The most basic property of a political structure which is a historical invariant is that there is a centre of power. The centre of power is basically a sovereign institution which governs a territory. Institutions which attempt to secure their sovereignty have a distinct set of problems which face them uniquely which they is required to solve in order to survive. The most fundamental of these problems is governance itself, to secure and maintain order and control such that it can forcefully dominate all other institutions within the geographical area it claims sovereignty over. Even if you assumed an absolutely self-interested governance, which is more cynicism than can perhaps be reasonably assumed, a government will require a smoothly functioning political and legal order such that it can appropriate resources for itself. Therefore a government must authorise people to perform functions (whether implicitly or explicitly) in exchange for obedience to itself which becomes normative through compliance, which comes from either fear, convenience, or legitimate loyalty. Thus the most basic imperative of governance is dominance over a particular geographical area, and as a sovereign institution this is a unique and autonomous function.
A consequence of this is that a sovereign institution faces threats to its domination over a geographic area. Internally it has to deal with the whole sets of institutions within its own territory which could threaten its domination of that territory in terms of competition for authority over men and control of resources. As the only institution capable of mediating conflicts between internal institutions it must by any means necessary secure itself against rivals which could threaten its sovereignty. The sovereign institution is also thrown into a geopolitical situation in conflict with other sovereign institutions in other territories to which it must respond, such that its dominance over its own territory is not threatened. This leads to expansionist tendencies in order to proactively defend against external threats. International competition also requires internal security and the administrative mobilisation of resources and men. In other words it has come to require modern states to have the capacity for policing, taxation, maintaining standing armed forces and the technological development and production of weapons. To put it in the terms descibed initially in terms of dynamical systems, the sovereign institution is an adaptive system which interacts with its environment and requires changes in the structure of its behaviour in order to answer the basic demand of its domination over a territory.
Power can be simply defined as the capacity of any institution to control resources and men, theoretically 100 percent power would be that at any one moment an institution could take 100 percent of the resources available to it within its sovereign geographical domain. Power can of course be subtle, such as media influence and so on, but fundamentally institutions all will seek power differentially to competing institutions, including the sovereign institution, and this explains their behaviour in the long run. This is institutional thinking as opposed to thinking on the level of the individual agent because institutions posses these supervening incentives. An individual bureaucrat in charge of an institution who is not interested in pursuing the expansion of that bureaucracy's power will not remain in charge for long if that institution is to stay a relevant player.
Technological superiority, administrative superiority, and other factors will all will help in the qualitative goal of victory abroad and dominance at home. Thus it requires a sovereign institution which is powerful and strategically competent enough to defeat internal and external threats to its sovereignty. This is one of the primary drivers of history, since if one state is at a comparative advantage in terms of its political structure other countries will be forced to follow suit and modernise or face domination. The Napoleonic wars and the adoption of Napoleonic policies by the European states which opposed Napoleon is an excellent example of this. Global systems will be forced into new equilibria by innovative statecraft which is more adaptive to their competition and conflict.
Contrary to popular assumption in the past the monarchies of Europe had very little resources and manpower at their disposal, the Capetian Dynasty which ruled France from 987 until 1328 for example had no permanent taxation.6 There are many cases of total humiliation of the European monarchs during this period as calls for resources were often simply denied by aristocratic power brokers, this was perhaps exemplified by the king of Aragon being forced to cancel a crusade. Nothing approximating this level of decentralisation is imaginable in the modern period.7 The absolutely decisive process throughout the Middle Ages is this centralisation of power wherein by the end we see proto-liberal states like Britain and highly developed Absolutism as in the case of France. In this process taxation, permanent armies, bureaucracies and sophisticated central administration of the affairs of state were established.
There are a number of important developments to note throughout the Middle Ages such as the emergence of permanent capital cities, the introduction of mass coinage and later the printing press, and of course the introduction of gunpowder and modern mass warfare. Coinage allowed for nonlocal economic relations and literacy allowed for mass communication which both enabled the rise of the modern State and the subordination of intermediaries. Gunpowder also removed to a large extent the qualitative nature of war and made mobilising mass numbers of men and the industrial production of weapons and other relavant military equipment the most decisive factor. Modernizing reforms were introduced in a top-down fashion in refutation of common assumptions informed by liberal ideology. The adoption of these innovations by one state ahead of others gives that state a comparative advantage geopolitically and so the innovation is forced on other states which now require structural reform in order to keep up.8
The observation that government uses crises as an excuse for centralisation is nothing new, and the geopolitical account of the centralisation race in Europe during the middle ages from a hyper decentralised order to a centralised one (the modern Nation-State) is not controversial in the slightest among medievalists or those who study the ancient world. What Bertrand De Jouvenel in his masterpiece _On Power _demonstrates which is unique is that it is impossible to reduce this process down to the factors just mentioned. Jouvenel demonstrates that sovereign institutionality faces internal rivalries capable of preventing this process, and so there are always internal conflicts in a social order which are brought forward from the top down, this contradicts how we typically think of political systems as always trying to maintain a status quo:
"These non-governmental authorities, to which we give the name social authorities, are no more blessed with an angelic nature than is Power itself. If they all were so blessed, there could be, depend on it, nothing but perfect harmony and cooperation between them. But it is not so: however altruistic one of these authorities, such as the paternal or the ecclesiastical, is intended by nature to be, human nature imparts to it a measure of egoism: it tends to make itself its end. Whereas, conversely, an authority which is by nature egoist, such as the employer's or the feudal lord's, is sobered by time, and develops by unequal stages the spirit of protection and kindness. Every authority is, by the law of its nature, essentially dualist. Being ambitious, each separate authority tends to grow; being egoistical, to consult only its own immediate interest; being jealous, to pare down the role of the other authorities. There thus ensues an incessant strife of authorities."9
And so there is simply an inherent tension or contradiction to sovereign intitutionality, at any one moment it forms a social order with its own subsidiary institutions but it also has every reason to undermine them, and vice versa, and so there is a prolonged conflict within a social order. Popular movements can of course easily be defeated by the state, as is demonstrated by huge peasant revolts failing due to lack of support from above and in the many governments where minorities have ruled throughout history. The mechanism by which pressure from below gives the impression of transforming the structure of goverance has been called High/Low vs Middle by Jouvenelians, it is just one among many possible conflicts internal to a political order but it is the most important because it is the mechanism which drives centralisation specifically:
"Always and everywhere the labour of men is put to use, and the energies of men are tamed. Power, which needs them for itself, must therefore start by detaching them from their first overlords. The leaders of groups, the masters of resources, the gatherers of tithes, the employers of labour, are all despoiled by it, but their servants get no more than a change of masters. Thus, in the time of its expansion Power's predestined victims and natural enemies are the powerful—the men with payrolls, and all those who wield authority in society and are strong in it. To attack them Power need feel for them no conscious how stility; with animal instinct, it overthrows what irks it and devours what nourishes it."10
And so we see a basic duality with power, a social and expansionist nature, which is possessed both by central and intermediary institutions. The sovereign institution, which in modernity is the state, has the binary choice of cooperation or sabotage with its intermediaries, and vice versa. Society is an amalgamation of institutions which all posses the duality of having the basic incentive to perform their basic social function, for example of a corporation to deliver a product or service, but also the incentive to dominate their market and increase their own power. The complexity can increase infinitely since sovereign institutionality could side with some intermediaries against others (with the nobility against the church, with the high nobility against the low nobility or the opposite etc). This means that the sovereign institution is always maintaining a balance of a coalition which is comprised of different institutions represented by ethnicities, religious authorities, familial or tribal authorities, nobility, corporations, regional authorities, and so on. Power is thus not simple but comprised of coalitions which at any one moment uphold a given order. They are not necessarily stable and there will be gradual temporal shifts in power balances depending on any number of contingent factors imaginable. There will always be different degrees of sabotage and cooperation among the different parts of the coalition and this will also determine how things play out.
The tragedy of power is that this game has no final solution, there will always be transformation of society, the state is permanent revolution. The sovereign institution will always be an assailant of an established order in the long run. However as noted in the brief discussion of the definition of power it must be noted that this is reciprocally true for subsidiary institutions which also seek to increase their share of power and may have the potential to sabotage sovereign institutionality. This is why political structures are dynamical systems, like animals which are a response to the problems of the environment, political structures are stable equilibria in response to balancing different internal factions and managing this with external threats. None of these factors are static and so an adaptive strategy of leadership will necessarily not be static either, politics must be dynamic to adapt to metastability. This necessity of dynamism in institutional relations and metastability is described eloquently by Jouvenel here:
"We see here the state playing two roles at the same time, guaranteeing the established order by its organs and undermining it by its legislation. What I am saying is that it has always filled this double role. True it is that the judiciary, the police, and, at need, the army do cause acquired rights to be respected. And if the state is viewed as a collection of institutions, as so much machinery, it is abundantly clear that these institutions are conservative in character and that the machinery works in defence of the existing social order.
But we have already proclaimed our intention of not studying the state as an "it," but of finding in it a "they." As machinery, it plays its conservative role automatically; as a living thing with a life of its own, thriving and developing, it can but thrive and develop to the detriment of the social order. Look at it in its Being, and it is the protector of the privileged. But look at it in its Becoming, and it is the inevitable assailant of the master class, a word under which I comprise every form of social authority."11
The most important event in politics is a social revolution, a structural transformation of the organisation of the social order. The question is why do these happen? From the structural realist perspective it is that revolutions liquidate weakness (malaptation) and bring forth strength. Jouvenel correctly points out that after every revolution there is an extraordinary increase in the power and organisational capacity of the state. It is a historical irony for example, that one of the moments in the buildup to the rejection of the power of Charles I was raising finance to build a sovereign Navy. Of course what happens immediately after Cromwell comes to power is an extraordinary fleet buildup and crushing of Dutch hegemony at war. The greatest ambition of the Russian state for all its history was the domination of Eastern Europe, something only accomplished by the USSR, and the accomplishment of a nuclear program was surely beyond Nicholay II's wildest dreams.
As Jouvenel says "Did the people rise against Louis XIV? No, but against good natured Louis XVI, who had not even the nerve to let his Swiss guards open fire. Against Peter the Great? No, against the weakling Nicholas II, who didn't even dare avenge his beloved Rasputin. Against that old Bluebeard, Henry VIII? No, but against Charles I, who, after a few fitful attempts at governing, had resigned himself to living in a small way and no danger to anyone."12 This striking fact should throw off immediately the typical narrative around revolution that it is against tyranny, when in fact there is an extraordinary increase in state power after a revolution, and all the famous tyrants of monarchical history seem to get off without much trouble. Revolutions under our model are the result of a failure of state. The state is incapable of structural reform in light of competition with other states which can be for a number of reasons, and so a movement to a new equilibrium is necessary, a phase change, a bifurcation. If the metastability of a particular ruling institutional configuration is insufficient to adapt to a geopolitical problem then it will be destroyed and replaced by one which will in a great event, if the metastability of the sovereign institution is greater then a revolution will be unnecessary. Theda Skocpol sums up this here:
"We can make sense of social-revolutionary transformations only if we take the state seriously as a macro-structure. The state properly conceived is no mere arena in which socioeconomic struggles are fought out. It is, rather, a set of administrative, policing, and military organizations headed, and more or less well coordinated by, an executive authority. Any state first and fundamentally extracts resources from society and deploys these to create and support coercive and administrative organizations.77 Of course, these basic state organizations are built up and must operate within the context of class-divided socioeconomic relations, as well as within the context of national and international economic dynamics. More over, coercive and administrative organizations are only parts of overall political systems. These systems also may contain institutions through which social interests are represented in state policymaking as well as institutions through which nonstate actors are mobilized to participate in policy implementation. Nevertheless, the administrative and coercive organizations are the basis of state power as such.
State organisations necessarily compete to some extent with the dominant class(es) in appropriating resources from the economy and society. And the objectives to which the resources, once appropriated, are devoted may very well be at variance with existing dominant class interests. Resources may be used to strengthen the bulk and autonomy of the state itself - something necessarily threatening to the dominant class unless the greater state power is indispensably needed and actually used to support dominant class interests. But the use of state power to support dominant class interests is not inevitable. Indeed, attempts of state rulers merely to perform the state's "own" functions may create conflicts of interest with the dominant class. The state normally performs two basic sets of tasks: It maintains order, and it competes with other actual or potential states. As Marxists have pointed out, states usually do function to preserve existing economic and class structures, for that is normally the smoothest way to enforce order. Nevertheless, the state has its own distinct interests vis-a-vis subordinate classes. Although both the state and the dominant class(es) share a broad interest in keeping the subordinate classes in place in society and at work in the existing economy, the state's own fundamental interest in maintaining sheer physical order and political peace may lead it (especially in periods of crisis) to enforce concessions to subordinate-class demands. These concessions may be at the expense of the interests of the dominant class, but not contrary to the state's own interests in controlling the population and collecting taxes and military recruits."13
This inherent contradiction of the political is the cause of the movement of civilized history. The most important Jouvenelian dynamic is the aforementioned High/Low vs Middle simply because it is the least recognised. An easy aesthetic example to point out is kings have always tended to use foreign troops for support (Swiss guard, Varangians Guard, Jannisaries, etc) rather than rely on their own native nobility. The peripheral elements of society are mobilised by the centre against the subsidiary institutions and demographics (the social authorities that Jouvenel refers to), this is because institutions are essentially jealous. The political is a zero sum game, power is accumulated differentially. Power increased by the state is power lost by the social authorities. The Reformation, particularly in England and Sweden, is basically a universally accepted example of this. The King seized the land of the church for himself and took the money too. He mobilised popular resentment against Catholic authorities, which tended to be more powerful and landed in Northern Europe, by providing protection to protestants and then used this as an excuse to form a national church with the monarch at the head. The commoner is tricked, power has simply been transferred from one authority to another. Individualism is thus structurally a means of atomising people from non-state authorities (e.g. paternal or ecclesial), bringing individuals directly under the authority of the state apparatus. A further verification of this view is clear since in Southern Europe where centralisation had happened earlier in Europe, secular powers had already infiltrated and subverted the Church to the extent that it would defend it against the protestants, and so quite simply the protestants failed.14
The essence of a social order therefore is coalitions of social forces forming the basis of a regime, these forces are at any one time pointed towards social ends but are in constant struggle and tension with one another. It is perfectly possible to have a Middle/Low vs High in which the aristocracy mobilises the peasants against the central administration, although the conditions for the possibility of this move is rare. Perhaps the best example of it is the fairly successful revolt against Akhenaten in ancient Egypt, where he tried to eliminate the polytheism of the old Egyptian tradition in favour of a new cult around sun worship and a new centralised state to come with it.15 Cooperation of the different castes of society is possible under certain strategies which exist in particular economic and geopolitical conditions, but contingency and random events can completely shift the balance of power and direction of the system. The most obvious example of such cooperation is war, or when there is a particular threat to society which needs immediately dealt with. Take Israel for example, a country surrounded by hostile Arabic powers, because of this threat a harsh cooperative nationalism is the only adaptive ideology to the situation, and so measures are put in place to maintain demographics constant and militarism is high to prevent these threats.
Arnold Toynbee gives a poignant example of how international competition alters political organization by contrasting Bavaria and Austria. Bavaria is a land with lots of great arable land, population, and resources in comparison with mountainous Austria, and so in the abstract one would expect Bavaria to have become a more significant power in history. But this of course is not remotely the case and it is because Austria constantly had to deal with external threats such as the Ottoman empire and so by necessity adopted an aggressive statecraft to secure regional domination. Thus the adaptive strategy pursued by nations under threat from outside pressures necessitates innovation. And so, political orders which are significantly more dynamic often outcompete rivals with better positions.16 Evolution has a more conservative character than people assume, there are life forms today which are basically exactly the same as they were millions of years ago, and this holds true for political structures, absent of external pressure on the imperatives of sovereign institutionality, they will have much less of a tendency to change.
There is a great deal of complexity to political dynamics but it fundamentally boils down to the binary of sabotage and cooperation. It's possible that social authorities could completely sabotage centralisation, it's possible that the central authority could pursue centralisation without significant resistance from intermediary authorities, it's possible the central authority has to side with lower levels of the social strata of institutions against higher, or with higher against lower, as in an ecclesial or aristocratic setting. The arbitrary decisions of fallible leadership, and the anomalous and unintentional nature of a lot of this should be emphasised. Events happen and material conditions can be unpredictable, but this doesn't change the fact that structures are real and that contingency affects them in a structural manner.
Order is therefore not spontaneous but based on the cooperation of disparate parts of a political order which are simultaneously motivated to either cooperate and sabotage each other. The state is considered as an autonomous actor not because it cannot be usurped and subverted by intermediary forces but because it has a unique problematic scale it is responding to as compared to its intermediaries. The political is fundamentally a self-reflexive problematic of security organization and any other problematic it is solving must be subservient to its fundamental goal of geographic domination. No matter how much influence subsidiary institutions wield influence they cannot undermine this, the state will turn against dominant classes and engage in class warfare if this is required by a geopolitical situation which requires intense structural reform. This is very easy to intuitively understand under the aristocratic or ecclesial examples of the rather simple feudal medieval system but this becomes increasingly controversial and obscured in modernity. Nevertheless championing the "oppressed" is always something which helps rather than hinders the expansion of power.
To again quote Jouvenel:
"And now we no longer understand the process, we no longer protest, we no longer react. This quiescence of ours is a new thing, for which Power has to thank the smoke-screen in which it has wrapped itself. Formerly it could be seen, manifest in the person of the king, who did not disclaim being the master he was, and in whom human passions were discernible. Now, masked in anonymity, it claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will. But that is clearly a fiction."17
Part 2: Applied Structural Analysis
English institutional sovereignty so thoroughly, and so impressively outclassed France prior to the 17th Century such that for a long period of time the comparatively sparsely populated England could dominate the much larger France. This enabled an early advantage in the Hundred Years War, and serious competition for longer than could be expected on a purely material basis. But this wasn't to last of course. The French would eventually centrally reform and develop the capability to mobilise a decent proportion of their men and resources, and as soon as this was achieved, the tables turned. France and England's monarchies would diverge significantly in their development, the French becoming the most formidable force in Europe with the Sun King Louis XIV. With the exception of the Russians, France became the most developed in its Absolutism within the Europe whilst England was chopping off Charles I's head before this could be developed in the mid seventeenth century.
After the Norman conquest England had an unusually small noble class due to the decapitation of large parts of the native aristocracy at the hands of William the Conquerer, and England wasn't a huge country in terms of land or population for the new nobles to deal with. English towns had already been weak in their local power under the Anglo-Saxon period and so never posed a serious threat to the central power and the Church had never acquired an obscene amount of land. All of these factors meant that England never faced the same problems as the French, Germans or the Nordic countries for example. The Angevin empire's administration had no equivalent anywhere in Europe, an unrivalled force. The centralisation was so effective and unopposed in England that it was a victim of its own success in some ways, baronial authorities, knightly authorities, and local town's representation at parliament meant that there was a peculiar unity amongst potentially conflicting factions, Perry Anderson sums up the situation here:
"The unitary Parliaments which met in London did not achieve the degree of meticulous fiscal control nor the rights of regular convocation which later characterised some of the continental Estates systems. But they did secure a traditional negative limitation of royal legislative power, which was to become of great importance in the epoch of Absolutism: it became accepted, after Edward I, that no monarch could decree new statutes without the consent of Parliament. Viewed structurally, this veto corresponded closely to the objective exigencies of noble class power. In effect, since centralized royal administration was from the start geographically and technically easier in England than "elsewhere, there was proportionately less need for it to be equipped with any innovatory decretal authority, which could not be justified by inherent dangers of regional separatism or ducal anarchy. Thus while the real executive powers of English mediaeval kings were usually much greater than those of French monarchs, for that very reason, they never won the relative legislative autonomy eventually enjoyed by the latter. A second comparable feature of English feudalism was the unusual fusion between monarchy and nobility at the local judicial and administrative level. Whereas on the continent, the court system was typically divided between segregated royal and seigneurial jurisdictions, in England the survival of pre-feudal folk courts had provided a kind of common terrain on which a blend of the two could be achieved. For the sheriffs who presided over the shire-courts were non-hereditary royal appointees; yet they were selected from the local gentry, not from a central bureaucracy; while the courts themselves retained vestiges of their original character as popular juridical assemblies in which the free men of the rural community appeared before their equals."1819
The superiority of Angevin administration and internal peace wasn't to lastonce the French developed a superior state and became able to outcompete the English, collapsing the English continental empire. During the Wars of the Roses, the more bureaucratic centralist Yorkists were miraculously defeated by the more localist and aristocratic Lancastrians, but this wasn't to last either. Henry VII massively expanded the state with new reforms and new means of taxation, marking a decisive shift towards Absolutism and the modern state. He was also a pious figure as well and spent large sums in building the image as a holy, Catholic leader and unifying figure after the tumult of the wars of the roses and the loss to France. But this stability wasn't to last, as his successor was Henry VIII.
As has been already noted briefly earlier, the invention of Protestantism and its proliferation by sovereign institutionality in Northern Europe is a good example of the political selection of ideologies for the purpose of the expansion of power. The split between Henry VII's advertising and imagistics of divine kingship were in total contradiction with Henry VIII's antics of divine right. Divine right was a very late development in Europe and in times past ecclesiastical authorities posed a very real limitation on what sovereign institutionality could do. Henry II's humiliation by the Church for his murder of Beckett and the Ghibelline Guelph conflict demonstrate this clearly. Henry's decision to split with the Pope, and to seize the Church's property, placing himself as head of the Church is a huge moment in the centralisation process in England.
Another significant factor in the development of Absolutism in England which is often overlooked about this period of time is Henry VIII's continental adventures. Aimless and pointless as has been often remarked, they represent the delusion of a declined nation coming down from the heights of the great English continental ambition of the English aristocracy which had dominated France for the most part in the Hundred Years War. Their successes extended across Belgium, as far as Iberia, as local as Scotland and as glorious as the Crusades. But this was now a fantasy, continental European powers had began having successes with centralisation and England was no longer as important. All this was in living memory of Henry VIII however and so the wars were fought, and although tactically inconsequential they would prove to be the seeds of the downfall of the English monarchy:
"Nor were they without fundamental results in England itself. Henry VIII's last major act, his alliance with the Empire and attack on France in 1543, was to have fateful consequences for the whole ulterior destiny of the English monarchy. Military intervention on the continent was misconducted; its costs escalated greatly, eventually totalling some ten times those of the first French war of his reign; to cover them, the State not only resorted to forced loans and debasement of the coinage, but also started to unload on the market the huge fund of agrarian property it had just acquired from the monasteries – amounting to perhaps a quarter of the land of the realm. The sale of Church estates by the monarchy multiplied as war dragged on towards Henry's death. By the time peace was finally restored, the great bulk of this vast windfall was lost;13 and with it, the one great chance of English Absolutism to build up a firm economic base independent of parliamentary taxation. This transfer of assets not only weakened the State in the long-run: it also greatly strengthened the gentry who formed the main purchasers of these lands, and whose numbers and wealth henceforward steadily grew. One of the drabbest and most inconsequential foreign wars in English history thus had momentous, if still hidden consequences on the domestic balance of forces within English society."2021
The land which had been seized from the church and transferred to the monarchy was sold to the gentry. This is the same class of small landowners who would be lampooned by Shakespeare in twelfth night, Malvolio being a clear stand in for the humourless landed puritan. This is where we arrive at the modern misunderstandings of the monarchy, we have the English tradition of parliaments which had a tendency to resist certain decisions and a new latent capitalist class which didn't understand or have any favourability towards what they saw as a deeply outmoded, inefficient medieval system of governance. Whilst Charles I's Pax Carolina is forgotten by many, it shouldn't be. His maintenance of peace during this period is remarkable. However during his personal rule, he was totally incapable of running the country effectively and had to rely on old feudal methods to get anything done. This further alienated the new landowning gentry which, thanks to centralisation and infrastructure were now creating a burgeoning national market.
The emerging Absolutist state had a very difficult position because it had strong and entrenched classes with a long history of overall success which meant that erratic actions by the monarch were very difficult not to notice and very difficult to justify. A sovereign institution which finds it impossible to structurally reform will fall behind its more dynamic neighbours. Nevertheless there was an anxiety deeply felt amongst the English people that they were becoming irrelevant to continental affairs. Once it was clear with Charles I's attempts to reform the situation failed, more extreme actions became both possible and necessary. The system was fragile, and in this case the perennially disloyal Scots resisted reforms in an ecclesiastical context and had a revolt in 1637 which required the King to ask Parliament for taxes. Once Parliament was reconvened the tension between legacy and emerging factions escalated continuously until it had to be resolved in civil war. Charles was not willing to give up at any point without a fight:
"The struggle to seize control over the English army that now had to be raised to suppress the Irish insurrection, drove Parliament and King into the Civil War. English Absolutism was brought to crisis by aristocratic particularism and clannic desperation on its periphery: forces that lay historically behind it. But it was felled at the centre by a commercialized gentry, a capitalist city, a commoner artisanate and yeomanry: forces pushing beyond it. Before it could reach the age of maturity, English Absolutism was cut off by a bourgeois revolution."22
The purpose of this discussion of British history is to demonstrate that there is an inherent tension and feedback loop between internal and external security which sovereign institutionality must juggle. External pressure can provoke internal destablization (as the brilliant Theda Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions demonstrates), and internal dynamism (or metastability) is often vital to adapting to the challenges presented by external competitors. Competition between sovereign institutions triggered organizational innovation towards centralisation at first in Europe and then globally, birthing the modern world. The picture this gives of power is endless struggle forever, because maintaining internal coalitions whilst competing with external forces is to enter a state of perpetual societal sabotage. This is why for Jouvenel, the state is permanent revolution.
The Primacy of the Political and the Russian Revolution
The political and the economic are reciprocally determining and radically intertwined processes. Perhaps the greatest initial economic thinker who thought both in terms of structures and radically related together politics and economics was Karl Marx. The basic idea is to look behind the "ideology" of the state and look at the underlying problematic it is a product of solving. The central problem faced by human societies for Marx is organizing productive activity and its solution for Marx in the material reality of history is class domination. The state's role in capitalist society is thus determined by Marx by the material reality of class struggle, it either enforces class domination or if seized by the proleteriat becomes a means of class liberation. This description simply cannot be correct since the state as sovereign institution must respond egoistically to the problem of securing a geographical territory, granting it an inherent drive for power which contradicts understanding it as a mere servant of economic class interests. This is demonstrated clearly by the actions of "communist" revolutionaries when they have been successful in seizing state power. In order to maintain state power they have been forced to act in accordance with the requirements of internal and external secuity even where it contradicted their mission of class struggle on behalf of the proleteriat.
Looking at the origins of the Russian Revolution and the behaviour of the Bolsheviks after seizing power demonstrates this thesis. In the early 19th century with the victory over Napoleonic France, Russia emerged as the most developed Absolutist political order in Europe, getting further with centralisation than any other monarchy in history. However things started to take a turn for the worse as the 19th century went on. The economy was mostly agricultural with only 8-10% of people living in cities.27, It was impossible to industrialise most of the country due to the lack of a rail system until the late 19th century.
However, the growth of the agricultural sector was immense despite a lack widespread change in agricultural technology.28 The Russian system was a hybrid of Feudalism and older forms of agricultural organisation which allowed for a great deal of peasant autonomy. A significant portion of agricultural land which was run by de facto peasant collective ownership. We see this autonomy in the Obshchinas which were essentially village communes with locally managed redistribution to maintain perceived equality. Individual households would be ancient patriarchal extended families and it was basically impossible for peasants to escape this arrangement due to strict laws on land purchase and sale. This was due to parochial enforcements of old rules by the the village councils (mirs) of which there were elected elders and well established custom.
This arrangement existed in tandem with the most advanced imperial bureaucracy Europe had produced at the time, yet the mid-19th century would bring major disturbances. The event which marks this is of course the Crimean War in which the Russian navy was humiliated by the Anglo-French alliance and their ambitions in the Near East were crushed. But like many war defeats the geopolitical implications were not nearly as serious as the domestic ones. The war highlighted that the Russian economic system was woefully inadequate to compete in the modern world, it had become maladaptive to the geopolitical situation.29
This would very quickly prompt the Tsarist regime to create the Zemstvos to promote development and aid local governments but most importantly to abolish serfdom in 1861. The feudal system had to be broken up to enable Russia to modernise without fear of peasant revolts, and was successfully implemented. The peasants now legally owned a huge amount of land, and there was no possibility of any kind of aristocratic resistance in Russia because they were comparatively weak compared to any other European countries due to their dependency upon the central bureaucracy. Imperial Russia was truly one of the most meritocratic societies in history and nowhere else has a nobility been more dependent on service and participation in the state to get ahead, and so they has no significant means of preventing the reforms. However, due to their influence the reforms were not as totalising as had been intended and so a modernisation of agriculture was not achieved as the peasants were forced to rent most key resources from nobles.30
The reforms however did enable some commercialisation of agriculture and the economic stratification of the peasants, near urban areas nobles and richer peasants known as the kulaks use wage labour on their land and sell product for profit. This was allowed due to the Stolypin reforms granting unconditional individual property rights. The Obshchinas still effectively owned/managed two thirds of land at the beginning of the 20th century.31 The Mirs had gained power due to aristocratic retreat and would negotiate directly with the imperial bureaucracy. This would prove to be an extremely precarious situation for the Russian imperial bureaucracy as they were the only agent left standing which could suppress these peasant revolts from well organised Obshchina communities during the modernisation of agriculture process.
This metastabile dynamism of the Russian regime certainly prevented a revolution in the 19th century. This is in stark contrast to pre-revolutionary France and China, where the entrenchment of economic elites within sovereign institutionality prevented these exact sort of reforms taking place and precipitated revolution. 19th Century Russia was however capable of structural reform and improving their situation without such drastic means. This runs counter to the Marxist analysis because the reforms were primarily motivated by internal security of the sovereign institution in response to external security threats. The political is the more fundamental problem faced by society and domination over a geographic area supervenes over the interests of a dominant economic class. The state can and does go directly against there interests in this and many other cases.
Witte's reforms from 1892-1903 were the next major moment in Russian statecraft as he heavily promoted railroad construction and infrastructure investment to allow for national industrialisation such that Russia could fully catch up to Western Europe. They were a great success with 8 percent growth per year in the 1890s,32 light and heavy industry expanded significantly as a result. Witte also managed to hugely increase tax revenue and also implemented successful monetary reform. There were two problems though, although foreign investment increased a great deal and this helped growth it also left Russia vulnerable to economic crashes, as was the case in 1899. Although ultimately Russia was a great power still and was not so dependent on foreign finance to the point it was a vassal of France and England, as some have suggested. The second problem was the growth simply wasn't fast enough. Witte was not only a great statesman but he was also a prophet and warned Nicholay of this:
"If we do not take energetic and decisive measures so that in the course of the next decades our industry will be able to satisfy the needs of Russia and of the Asiatic countries which are-or should be-under our influence, then… it is possible that the slow growth of our industry will endanger the fulfilment of the great political tasks of the monarchy. Our economic backwardness may lead to political and cultural backwardness as well."33
Russia at the critical juncture was catching up and making the right moves but it simply wasn't prepared for advanced wars with modern powers, the Japanese proved too much and the First World War went terribly, as one would expect and this was more than enough to destroy the regime, which likely needed 20 years of peace. But what specifically allowed the destruction of the old system was the complete breakdown in the ability to suppress peasant revolts due to the First World War, as the 1861 reforms crippled any kind of enforcement by local aristocrats. The Soviets in the big urban areas and the Mirs of the obshchinas revolted and many of the soldiers in the Russian army defected and joined the mass mobilising party state of Lenin's War Communism for the Russian Civil War. If the agriculture had been modernised fully, in other words largely automated and commercialised, peasant revolts would have been impossible. Russia was a house of cards, but it's tragic because in this case we see a state trying its best to reform and was doing a good job, but the reforms in their intermediate stages cause the country to be extremely vulnerable to outside threats. As Witte warned, Russia had to stay out of wars until it achieved greater internal stablity. Ignoring Witte was one of the greatest mistakes of statesmanship in history and arguably the cause of the Urkatastophe of the 20th century, World War I.
The Soviet party structure organised centralised means of coercion and created the Red Army under Trotsky, they formed a huge police force and won the civil war. The party state was much larger than the previously existing imperial bureaucracy and once Stalin was in power it was capable of full industrialisation and achieving the long term Russian foreign policy goal of conquering Eastern Europe and defeating Germany (with significant economic support from their American allies). To be sure the USSR made plenty of mistakes along the way like the adoption of lysenkoism, draining the Aral Sea and the failed Siberian forest project. However in terms of adaptiveness to the modern world, the overall huge success of the Soviet Union in the first part of the 20th century cannot be overstated.
Of course the mass starvation induced by the famines of the 1930s cannot be handwaved away, it is the nail in the coffin of Marxist historiography due to the naked hypocrisy of it. Soviet success shows the savagery of its land reforms under Stalin benefitted the regime's grip on power, but it is a direct refutation of Marxist ideals. The commercialisation of agriculture had been completely halted by the revolution because the nobles and richer peasants land had been seized and redistributed, in accordance with the ideals of the revolution. Since these groups dominated commercial agriculture this practice basically was halted and this stopped. With commercial agriculture dead, the traditionalist peasants weren't going to help modernisation. Industrial capacity could not be expanded under these conditions because the urbanite soviet state had no influence whatsoever on the rural Obshchinas which were entirely autonomous and who didn't want to participate in the national economy in any meaningful way. They wanted to continue to be self sufficient and only engaged in limited production for the cities, capping their capacity for economic and population growth.
The split within Soviet leadership was over how to solve this problem with Bukharin representing the right and Trotsky representing the left. Bukharin proposed a peaceful long term method of increasing the production of consumer goods such that peasants would want to buy them and so they'd raise money by commercialising. However as we all know this isn't what happened, instead Stalin went for the second option of forcing the peasantry to provide manpower to the cities for mass industrialisation as well as the "collectivisation of agriculture". This brought agriculture under the administative control of the party and basically forced the peasants to work for the state and hand over the grain. Managerial authority from urban commissars in the party basically liquidated the Obshchinas. The Soviets destroyed the ancient communistic system of Russian agriculture, which is a deep irony of history, because the whole revolution was only made possible by the peasants revolting against the Kerensky. Communism is the great theory of the primacy of the economic, and yet communists who sincerely tried to govern were bent to the will of political necessity and in order to be an adaptive state to the situation had to completely betray their principles, As Skocpol notes:
"Indeed, the great irony-and poignancy-of the Russian Revolution lies in the role and fate of the peasantry. For the peasants made their own thoroughgoing social revolution in 1917-and as a result became a threat to the viability of Russia as a revolutionized nation-state in a world of militarily competing nation-states. The efforts of the revolutionary state-builders to cope with this autonomous peasantry, even as they dealt with organized political competitors at home and abroad, led them bit by bit to erect a regime of monstrous proportions and consequences - especially for the peasantry. Thus the outcome of the Russian Revolution was a totally collectivist and authoritarian system in which the mass energies of all of the Russian people were finally turned-through coercion and terror if voluntary enthusiasm was not forthcoming-from the anarchic rebellions of 1917 toward active participation in centrally determined and directed efforts. At first these efforts involved the construction at reckless and breakneck speed of heavy industries. Then they turned to the defense of the Russian nation against a ruthless foe in World War II. Whatever the human costs-and they were terrible-this revolutionized system ultimately proved itself as a national state power. One need only compare the fate of Soviet Russia in World War II and after to that of Tsarist Russia in World War I to convince oneself of this."34
Japan: Entrenched Regime Sabotage and the Conditions of a Nationalist Revolution
Our final example to look at in our applied structural analysis is Japan. Now, the Meiji restoration was a huge structural transformation of Japanese society which enabled decisive economic and military reform. It enabled Japan to be the only colonial empire in Asia at the time and a superior power to the much larger China (in terms of land, natural resources and population). It even enabled Japan to defeat the Russian empire in a war.
One of the reasons why looking at Japan turned out to be a useful exercise is because it has been an island with few geopolitical threats. Outside of the few failed Korean expeditions and the costly Mongolian invasion, it has not been greatly involved militarily with the continent prior to the 20th century, or the outside world much at all. Of course they were influenced by ideas from the outside but they weren't faced with significant pressure outside of the aforementioned ones.
In Japanese history the first major structural transformation was the Taika reforms and culminated in the creation of the Taiho state. Based on the government in Tang China the city of command which was permanently established at Nara there was extensive centralisation of the government:
"An extensive central bureaucracy composed of a civilian aristocratic class, recruited to office by heredity rather than examination, maintained unified political control of the country. The realm was systematically divided into circuits, provinces, districts and villages, all under tight governmental supervision. A permanent conscript army was also created, if somewhat insecurely. Symmetrically planned imperial cities were built, along Chinese lines. Buddhism, syncretically mixed with indigenous Shinto cults, became an official religion, formally integrated into the apparatus of the State itself."35
However, this system was cannibalised and destroyed from the inside. This was likely a result of not establishing a mandarin caste and instead making most government roles hereditary which allowed the creation of a new aristocracy which gradually privatised and sabotaged many functions of government. Another explanation is the lack of foreign involvement in Japan in a serious way, with the one major exception of the failed Mongol invasion, meant that maintaining a complex society and bureaucratic structure was impossible. Without external energy to feed it and give it vectors of expansion, the structure moved out of equilibrium and was replaced by a new one. Private ownership of land steadily increased and the government allotment and even inspection became impossible. The peasants towing the land were now out of reach of the state and directly working under the lords. After the collapse of the Taiho system there was the rise of the Kamakura Shogunate and then the Ashikaga Shogunate which moved towards a total feudalisation of the state.
What was cemented in the beginning of the 17th century after the Sengoku-Jidai was often called the Bakufu government or Baku-Han system.36 The system was essentially run by a central government with the Shogun at the top (the bakufu), which owned about 20-25 percent of the land and had 5000 bannermen (Hanomoto).37 After Ieyasu, the power of the monarchy quickly became mostly symbolic in a similar way to what had happened to the emperor. So the Shogunal Bakufu apparatus and Hanomoto nobility basically controlled the political system:
"The population was divided into four closed orders - nobles, peasants, artisans and merchants. Bushi were separated from the villages and congregated in the castle-towns of their daimyo, as disciplined men-at-arms ready for immediate military deployment. Their numbers were officially registered, and the size of the samurai class was henceforward fixed at some 5-7 per cent of the population, a comparatively large sword-bearing stratum. Peasants were by the same token deprived of all arms, bound to the soil and juridically forced to deliver two-thirds of their product to their masters.16 The autonomous cities of the Ashikaga and Sengoku epochs were suppressed, and the merchant class forbidden to purchase land (just as the samurai were excluded from commerce). On the other hand, the castle-towns of the feudal magnates themselves grew prodigiously in this period. Trade developed rapidly, under the protection of the daimyo whose castellar headquarters provided the central nodes of a greatly enlarged network of cities in Japan."38
The merchant class wass being completely sabotaged from developing in sharp contrast to Europe. The independence of merchant towns was crushed upon unification and they were forbidden to buy land. The Shogunate mostly received income from its own domain and monopolies on mining. There was a huge increase in the population in Japan in the 18th century and there was a commercialisation and modernisation of agriculture with many specialised crops being developed for sale and the expansion of the money economy into the peasantry allowing for more layers of stratification within the peasantry. The power shifted from the land to the growing urban areas and the proto-bourgeoise were becoming increasingly rich with Daimyo influence shrinking. Part of the reason why there was such a rise in urban fortune was that the caste system prevented the merchant from buying rural land, hence the concentration and expansion of the cities.39 What is so unique about the Japanese situation here is that the merchant class sees an astonishing rise of wealth and proportion of the wealth from the 17th century right up to the mid-19th century and yet they see no corresponding rise of power,. Whenever the ruling nobility ran out of money they would simply sabotage the merchants gains by cancelling debt and this allowed for a political stasis of sorts:
"The Shogunate and the daimyo reacted to the crisis in their incomes by cancelling their debts coercively.extracting large 'gifts' from the merchant class, and cutting the rice stipends of their samurai retainers."40
This was due to a number of factors but the most overwhelmingly important was the fact of total Japanese isolationism. Once merchant capital reached a threshold of national wealth it had no vectors of expansion left whatsoever and was simply permanently killed before it could live. Capitalism was permanently sabotaged by an advanced bureaucratic feudal elite which was focused on maintaining its own power. The Japanese under the Bakufu had the single most successful saboteur regime in history. Education and economic development peaked off and the country was remarkably stable, the regime lasted for two and a half centuries more or less. A saboteur state is effectively an entrenched elite whose primary goal is simply maintaining their place at the centre of a political system and prioritise this over any other governmental imperatives. However this can have serious implications on the vulnerability of the system to external shocks, it will fall like a house of cards. This is a case contrary to High/Low vs. Middle in which power genuinely is conservative, however methods of conserving power succeeding so well eliminates the dynamism required to counter external security competitors. One of the major structural weaknesses of the Baku-Han system however was the disloyal Han:
"The founder of the dynasty, Ieyasu, had defeated the rival lords of the South-West at Sekigahara: he had not destroyed them. The daimyo numbered some 250-300 under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Of these, about 90 represented tozama or 'outside' houses, whom had not been early vassals of the Tokugawa, and many of which had fought against Ieyasu. The tozama houses were regarded as potentially or traditionally hostile to the Shogunate, and were rigorously excluded from participation in the machinery of the Bakufu. They included the great majority of the largest and richest domains: of the 16 biggest han, no less than II were tozama."41
This is the exact elite who was mobilised against the Bakufu government when it came under pressure. The Japanese regime change was uniquely smooth because Japan had such a uniquely advanced feudal society and its bureaucracy was sufficiently indifferent to the government that it could be integrated rather than broken by the new elite. Also due to the merely formal role its emperor held, shadow rulers can be replaced whilse retaining the public figurehead of the sovereign institution. The event which precipitated the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate was the treaties enforced by Commodor Perry when the Americans literally forced the country open economically in 1853. Very quickly this allows a vector of expansion for Japan's merchant class and so permanent sabotage from feudalism became totally unsustainable. In an irony of history, the ruling ideology of total xenophobia was weaponised against the ruling class. A fanatically anti-foreign population after this humiliation very quickly proved its downfall. Sabotage guaranteed through xenophobia paved the way for revolution based upon it. The Tozama, particularly those at Satsuma and Choshu openly conspired to overthrow the system. For Japan not to be humiliated and turned into a puppet state of European colonisers ,a new centralised powerful state would need to be created with a modern economic system and military.
The structural transformation was consolidated in 1871, and a huge modernisation based on the spirit of reform resulted ultimately in the creation of a nationalist developmentalism. Clearly this was a nationalist revolution against foreign threats above anything else, the treaties completely destabilised the Bakufu's ability to keep the merchants in check and to maintain their feudal system but it wasn't capitalism which replaced it. Mercantile capitalism only abortively emerged in the 1920s but it was disciplined by the strong central bureaucratic state, and a colonial empire was built.42 These developments allowed Japan to become a genuinely modern nation very quickly, able to compete with foreign powers in stark contrast to the collapse and civil war in the Qing dynasty.
What destroyed the old Japanese system was its traumatizing encounter with American "gunboat diplomacy" which could not have been predicted, this shock from the outside triggered a structural transformation. Again we see this feedback loop of external competition with internal security organization as the defining mechanism in the historical development of modern statecraft.
Conclusion: History as Tragedy
There is no final solution to history, there is no utopia. What Meirsheimer called the tragedy of great power politics presents us with a brutal world that rewards power for its own sake. To quote Jouvenel, "the state is the repository of men's dreams, and it is where they go to die." This tragic view we must oppose to utopian ideological visions of the state's role in history. Order is fleeting and rare, entropy is far more endemic than negentropy. From this perspective, politics is about the balancing of internal coalitions and interests, bending the will of would be saboteurs to the greater cause of surviving security competition with opposing powers. This political negentropy is impossible to secure permanently, a permanent equilibrium is impossible. Real order in a society is metastability, a dynamic society is capable of constant structural reform in response to shifts out of equilibrium as new situations develop. Society is not a closed system but constantly in interaction with shifts in the natural world, power balances at home and abroad are always shifting, and man is the sick animal, there is no permanent solution. Metastability is only possible when you have a leadership willing and able to be pioneering, which thrusts into the unknown, which confronts problems, and creates new precedents in the state of exception.
The eternal return of the metastable, due to constant shifts and disequilibrium, is actually what makes life possible in the first place. Without struggle and conflict there would be no life, but in my view a life without struggle is not worth living at all. Real equilibrium is death, the only truly stable form is static equally spread out energy, heat death. Life itself is not the striving to this form it is the struggle against it, so of course there's no permanent solution, and ideologies which promise an end of history ultimately promise a pathetic and uninspiring vision. The struggle for order is therefore meaningful because it is an extension of the struggle of life. Political nihilism is the result of the idealism of playing to win forever and establish a utopia, all real victories are secured by people who are playing to play. Affirming struggle is the only way to engage with actual political reality as meaningful in itself, all else is cope and denial.
Steven French is a contemporary English philosopher primarily known for his structural realist exposition of physics, the most important work being The Structure of the World: Metaphysics and Representation. Gilbert Simondon was a French philosopher who created a "relational realism" in his magnum opus Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information. Deleuze radicalised Simondon's ontology in a number of his works most importantly Difference and Repetition and A Thousand Plateaus with Felix Guattari. He made a rigorous contribution to structural realism with his notions of the virtual and the actual, thus modally clarifying the project, and with his notion of counter actualisation completely avoids a "top down" view with any power on the side of possibility compared to real things. Manuel DeLanda develops his version of conceptualisation of Deleuze's core argument and contributes with his own understandings from analytic philosophy of science and subsequent scientific developments in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. All have contributed immensely to my understanding of ontology.↩
Manuel DeLanda, 1000 years of nonlinear history (Zone Books, 1997) p.14↩
There are two notes in the original text suggesting further reading. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature (New York: Bantam, 1984). For the developments in physics and particularly chemistry and thermodynamics in shaping a new materialism. And in Evolutionary Biology he looks at non-reductionists who don't want to chalk everything up to gene selection and take into account self-organising systems, and in particular recommends Stuart Kauffman, The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), and David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).↩
Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual MIT Press (2012), p. 3-4↩
Gilbert Simondon, Individuation in light of notions of form and information, (University of Minnesota Press, 2020), p.8↩
Bertrand De Jouvenel, On Power (Liberty Fund, 1993), p.20↩
Ibid. p.6 Refers to the failed 53 day crusade by Philip III "The Bold"↩
An overall impression of this process could be found in chapter 1 of Chris Bond's Nemesis (Imperium Press, 2019) But for primary sources one could look at Carrol Quigley's Weapons Systems and Political Stability(Washington, DC: University Press of America. 1983) for the relationship between political systems and military technology, Peter Spufford's Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1988) on Monetary evolution and its relation to centralisation and state building. And the link between the printing press, literacy, and centralisation is so well known it's not worth linking but I would suggest looking at Brian Stock's The Implications of Literacy: Writing and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton University Press, 1983) especially pages 3-88 for the political implications prior to the well known printing press revolution.↩
Ibid. p. 175-176↩
Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge University Press, 1973, 2015) p.29-30. The Note here for here citation 77 found at p.301 is "My views on the state have been most directly influenced by such classical and contemporary writings as: Max Weber, Economy and Society, 3 vols., ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York: Bedminster Press, 1968), vol. 2, chap. 9 and vol. 3, chaps. 10-13; Otto Hintze, essays in Historical Essays, ed., Felix Gilbert, chaps. 4-6, 1 1 ; Tilly, ed., Formation of National States; Randall Collins, Conflict Sociology (New York: Academic Press, 1975), chap. 7; and Col lins, "A Comparative Approach to Political Sociology," pp. 42-69 in Bendix, et. al., eds., State and Society; and Franz Schurmann, The Logic of World Power(New York: Pantheon Books, 1974). See also the references in note 73. (found on same page)"↩
See William T Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford University Press, 2009) particularly chapters 2-3. Southern Europe were more complex developed states which had incorporated ecclesial power and so defended it. In the Northern HRE church held land and competing with the Austrians, with similar situations in England and Sweden, the reformation was defended. I'm not taking any particular side in this dispute this is just historical record and neither come off well in terms of reasons for defence."↩
See Donald Redford's Akhenaten: The Heretic King (Princeton University Press, 1984)↩
See Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History (Oxford University Press, 1961), specifically the section, The Stimulus of Pressures, which can be found on p.111-125.↩
Perry Anderson's Lineages of the Absolutist State (NLB, 1974) p.115↩
From the Previous sections citation, the well worth reading "J. P. Cooper, 'Differences between English and Continental Governments in.tJ:e Early Seventeenth Century', in J. J. Bromley and E. H. Kossmann Ced.), Brztazn and the Netherlands London 1960, pp. 62-90, esp. 65-71."↩
The work cited by Anderson is "F. Dietz, English Government Finance Z485-z558, London 1964, pp. 147, 149, 158, 214."↩
See Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, chapter eight.↩
See Sean McMeekin's The Berlin Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power 1898-1918 (Penguin Books, 2010)↩
See Rosa Luxemburg's thesis on Economic development in Poland https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1898/industrial-poland/index.htm↩
Cited in Skocpol's State and Social Revolutions.The estimate is from Jerome Blum's Lord and Peasant in Russia: From The Ninth to Nineteenth Century (Princeton, N.J, Princeton University Press, 1961)↩
Cited in Skocpol, Gilbert Rozman's Urban Networks in Russia (Princeton University Press)↩
Alexander Gerschenkron, 'Russian Agrarian Policies and Industrialisation, 1861-1917," in Continuity in History and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968) p.143.↩
Lazar Volin, A Century of Russian Agriculture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1970)↩
Skocpol cited "Von Laue, Sergei Witte, chap. 8; Carson, "State and Economic Develop ment," in State and Economic Growth, ed. Aitken, pp. 118-27; and Alexander Gerschenkron, "Problems and Patterns of Russian Economic Development," in The Transformation of Russian Society, ed. Cyril E. Black (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), pp. 47-61.↩
Von Laue, Sergei Witte p.2-3↩
Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (NLB, 1974) p.435 This book is an excellent resource in terms of practical structural analysis, from a mostly Marxist tradition in terms of looking at power dynamics, he sometimes runs into issues with his analysis but constantly sees and notes Jouvenelian dynamics regardless. For this Period of Japanese history and generally with sharp religious and institutional understanding J.W Hall's Japan: From Pre-history to Modern Times, is the gold standard.↩
See The Cambridge History of Japan Volume 4 Early Modern Japan (Cambridge University Press, 1991) especially chapter 4 The Bakuhan System by John Whitney Hall.↩
A Craig, Choshu in the Meiji Restoration (Cambridge USA,1961), p. 15, quoted from Lineages.↩
Ibid. p. 441, the note suggests evasion means it could have been as low as 2/5 of wealth appropriated↩
C. D. Sheldon, The Rise of the Merchant Class in Tokugawa Japan 1600-1868, (Locust Valley, 1958)↩
For an account of the Meiji Restoration as a Nationalist Revolution See W.G Beasley's The Meiji Restoration (Stanford University Press, 1972). Also See W.J MacPherson's The economic development of Japan 1868-1941 (Cambridge University Press, 1987) For Post Meiji Economic development and state involvement enabling the miracle. Post War roughly the same exact policies were followed to revivify Japan.↩